Digital Learning Network And Its Scope In Rural Development

by | Dec 20, 2019

Spot the TV?

“I do not even see my salary now. It gets credited to my account. Everything has become so digital now. I shop online, pay my house rent through net banking and use my debit card instead of cash for regular transactions. So at the end of the month, I would have spent my salary but do not see my hard earned money”, said my colleague Sunil Kumar at Quest Alliance.

Starting from food to travel, most of our payments are digitized. There has been a robust internet revolution in the last few years in India, with the outset of affordable smart phones and internet connection. It has created accessibility towards digitization in every corner of the country.

Considering this trend, digital learning can prove to be a saviour. It can impact all spheres of life for students in schools, colleges to the ones who are working or not. It has accelerated the growth of e-learning spaces and thus, can create an impact without many limitations. As observed in schools, digital literacy is welcomed by all age groups of teachers and Head teachers. They feel that digital learning as a medium, a vast array of knowledge and content can be shared with students. Usage of new techniques is benefiting teachers, educators, instructors, trainers and students. In the era of digitization and smart technology, digital learning will act as a breakthrough to understand the ongoing technology boom and can also play a vital role to strengthen the 21st century skills of students.

Benefits of digital learning

Digital learning is trying to bridge the gap between education and employment. Through the advancement of building 21st century skills, the value and scope of digital life-skill learning has grown. Application-based learning can be increased in students. If we consider the age group of 15-25 years, they are most interested in using this mode. The exposure to such learning spaces can be done right from the school as the children in school are more curious about the digital tool-kitst. Students can easily adapt to new ways to learn; thus the schools can be seen as ventures of creating digital learning spaces.

How digital learning space has been created in Quest Alliance

I was assigned a project to create Digital learning spaces for Cluster Resource Centre Co-coordinators (CRCCs) and Head teachers (HTs) of schools. We started with a WhatsApp group called as “Anandshala Learning Network”. It is an informal group, that consists of Anandshala team members and learners (CRCCs and HTs). In this group, there is continuous interaction, thus creating constant engagement among all the members on specific issues and themes.

Anandshala digital content shown on LCD TV in a workshop
WhatsApp Learning Network Group with Anandshala team members and stakeholders of Samastipur district

Why learning network?

Learning network is designed based on the annual capacity building plan and the programme implementation plan of Anandshala. For example, if the workshop focuses on identification of students at risk of dropout or vision building for schools, then discussion on the same would be triggered in the network with the help of questions, videos, audio or print documents, just after the completion of the workshop to keep the discussion on. Workshops are conducted to create space for immersion and reflection on respective stakeholder’s role, educational perspective, Anandshala strategy, individual agency, vision and plan. They also act as a launch pad for planning and implementing specific strategies for school improvement. It becomes very important to keep the conversation going and to create a sense of community amongst these various stakeholders.

Who are the stakeholders?

Stakeholders are all from Samastipur district, Bihar:

  1. Cluster Resource Centre Coordinator (CRCC) They are responsible to provide academic support to each and every school in their respective clusters (10-12 schools together form a cluster) and to ensure proper maintenance of data related to school enrolment, absenteeism and dropout. They perform these roles by making regular school visits to monitor and support teachers as well as head teachers in curricular and co-curricular activities as well as administrative aspects
  2. Head Teachers: They are responsible for overall academic, co-curricular and administrative well-being of the school
  3. Bal-Sansad: This is an elected student body responsible to support teachers and students in maintaining and resolving school related issues, thereby exercise and develop 21st century skills
Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam’s story about leadership shared in the learning network is shown to the teachers and HTs in a block level workshop conducted by district administration.
Photo credits: Rajlaxmi, Program officer at Quest Alliance.
Digital content shown to the Baal Sansad members

What happens in learning network?

The framework is simple:

  • Share knowledge based content, like photos, videos, documents
  • Asks inquisitive questions that trigger discussion on a selected theme
  • Initiate discussion on implementation with the help of questions, where the way things are practiced is questioned which can make learners think about their ideas
  • Ask them to share their questions, reflections, and references, which can also motivate them to do better
CRCCs watch a video about Muhim and home visit shared in learning network

Content in learning network

Here’s the kind of content that is shared in the learning network group:

A block level program organised in Tajpur block, Samastipur, where the content shared where shown to the teachers

Challenges faced by learning network

The content was continuously shared in the Learning network group but the responses received were minimal, in fact zero. Thought provoking questions were asked before and also after sharing the content in the group, but there was no response whatsoever. I was disheartened, I lost the interest and motivation to take it ahead, as I felt that whatever I started had no effect on the stakeholders and hence, no impact on children. I shared it with other fellows during the India Fellow midpoint training and my co-fellows gave me a number of ideas which they thought could work.

Research post failure of learning network

Deep research was done and the objective was to generate insights on the digital content created as well as to understand the digital learning users behaviour. It was done over 3 days in 7 blocks, with 17 CRCCs, 9 HTs and 15 Teachers. Key points have been listed below for clear understanding of the findings:

  • Each one of them had smartphones and everyone uses WhatsApp (or bound to use) since it’s integral to their job role. They receive all the important information/circulars from the education department on WhatsApp only. 
  • Just a few were aware of the voice to text or audio feature to respond to the messages.
  • Most of them use their phone either before sleeping or any time after 6 pm. They are not very active during the day unless they receive any notices/messages from the department.
  • Only a few shared that they check their phones early morning or during lunch time. 
  • It is likely that female teachers might not consume digital content or see messages after they go back home because of their household chores. One female middle-aged teacher was not even aware of YouTube.
  • Most of them get disinterested looking at lengthy videos. They prefer videos with a short duration of 5-6 minutes. Just a few people said that if it keeps them curious or is useful then they can consume longer videos as well.
  • Some of them said that they don’t care about the length of the video but it should be less in size. They prefer videos below 15 MB which doesn’t consume their phone memory.
  • Everyone preferred watching audio-visual content on their WhatsApp groups. The engagement is high when the text is supported with audio but it is low when it is either just text or audio.
  • Many of them relied on learning network to clear their concepts
  • They look for application based content to help them carry out their day to day activities at school easily
Research, discussion with CRCCs and HTs

 Content they wish to see

  • Videos related to changing the mind-set of parents, teachers
  • More application based videos and less informative videos
  • Visual content related to school subjects – new ways of teaching Mathematics, Science etc.
  • Videos related to class management and different activities to teach
Students of 7th and 8th standard make science experiment models looking at the content shared in the learning network group

Success of learning network

Keeping in mind the research points, content shared in the group was modified. All the key points mentioned by the stakeholders were taken into consideration before sharing any content in the group and slowly, the result turned out to be satisfactory. Stakeholders shared the content with other team members of their schools and started showing it to the children as well. Among 996 public schools in Samastipur, Bihar, only 27 have digital learning kits. It includes a set of LCD television, an internet device, and a digital offline content device. This entire setup runs on solar power implanted in the school by SELCO. The digital content shared is shown on these LCD TVs, thus helping students to learn in digital format. Anandshala is helping CRCCs by providing them projectors and tablets, for easy access of the content. Today, close to 70 CRCCs are there in the learning network group and thus, impact close to 700 schools in the Samastipur district of Bihar.

Parents teacher’s meeting conducted in Kalaynpur block where the digital content is shown to the parents by QA team member Kailash
Prize distribution for students who had made science experiment models, looking at the content shared on the learning network group

Thinking beyond

Going through the data sets, we can realize the massive scope of digital learning in schools. Digital and e-learning are platforms which can connect people, share information, and thereby build a global community. The initiation of digital learning spaces has created an opportunity for students in rural areas to get acquainted with tool kits. The attendance level in schools has increased. The curriculum in digital learning will become more standardized and uniform. This will be a centralized way to educate. We can channelize our resources and opportunities in a planned way. Equal access to digital learning among children and youth can bring a revolution. Easy connect and network building will enrich young minds faster.

Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.

– Albert Einstein.

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